Black Friday: Gift Guide for the Stylish Lass….

I like to shop but I hate crowds.  I would rather punch myself repeatedly around the eyes, nose and throat than deal with the hordes of shoppers looking to score a deal.  Instead, I will be at home, nursing a rather large delicious treat as I watch movies on Netflix.  Why will I be so stress-free you ask?  It’s because I will be doing my shopping online and having UPS and Fed Ex act as my little gift elves delivering retail happiness to friends and family across the nation.

If you are of sane mind and lack the will of a mother lion looking to protect her young, then I encourage you to join me on the proverbial couch and relax.  But like I have all this week, I am not leaving you to your own devices to twist in the cruel retail winds.  My staff and I have pulled together different gift guides each with a different focus.  Even better is that everything on them is under $100!

So let’s get this baby rolling with the first gift guide – Stylish Finds for the Sassy Lass curated by my assistant Michelle who is one uber-stylish lady ….

Stylish Girl Gift Guide by Courtney Out Loud

[clockwise] West Elm Gold Flatware // Restoration Hardware Faux  Fur Throw // Mor Emporium Black Collection Scented Candle  // Bespoke Home Monogrammed Natural Linen Jewelry Roll // The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp // Yosi Sarmra Chain T-Strap // Deepa Gurnani Crystal Petal Earrings

Stylish Girl Gift Guide 2

[clockwise] Tinley Road Vegan Leather Jogging Pant // West Elm Marble Silk Pillow // Hudson Grace Marble Cheese Board // Modern House Wine by Alexsis Swanson // The Head & The Heart – Let’s Be Still // Sole Society “Skylar” Bootie 

I love Michelle’s picks and have ordered a few things for my sister from this list.  Now if you excuse me, there is a piece of pie and a hunky Norse god that goes by Thor awaiting my arrival on the couch.  Happy Shopping……

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A Hostess Gift I Would Want To Receive…..

Okay so here is the deal…..if you come to a party I throw, I don’t expect you to bring me anything.  Seriously.  I don’t throw holiday parties to get stuff.  However, if you do decide to bring a little something, put some effort into it.  I have gotten some horrible host gifts in the past including….

1) Dish Towels – these could be a cool gift but when the “2 for $1″ tag is still on them, it sorta negates the good will.

2) Half a Cake – Yes people, someone brought half a cake as a hostess gift.  Did I mention it was their birthday cake since I could see the holes where the candles had once been?

3) Cash – A $20 in an envelope.  No card or note…just cash in an envelope.  Nothing makes your host feel better than being treated like a prostitute, albeit one that cooks for you.

So to save my future guests embarrassment, here is what you can bring me……

These teaspoons from LEIF are awesome.  Made from acrylic, this set of six comes in a beautiful array of green hues and retail for a pocketbook friendly $36.  These spoons are cooler than a bottle of wine, more awesome than a split of champagne and way better than half a freakin’ cake (seriously – HALF a cake…and it was not even a Carvel ice cream cake!).

Okay, I understand if you feel weird giving your host a bag of spoons.  So if you wanna round out the gift, then I suggest adding this to the mix…..

I love the teas from Tea Forte.  Not only are they tasty, but I am crazy for the triangular packaging of each tea bag.  Tasty and pretty…..it’s a win-win.

So to recap…..

Cool Spoons + Yummy Tea = Awesome Host(ess) Gift

Half a Cake = You get to was dishes after the party

Okay, remember that exciting tidbit of news I had from yesterday?  Well, it’s that I am going to be back on the Nate Berkus Show this month!  I will be doing a brief segment on non-traditional holiday decorating.  As soon as I get an official date, I will let you all know but until then, won’t you do the “Happy Dance” with me?

Okay, so what do you like to give as a host/hostess gift?  And if it’s ice cream cake, then you move to the top of my invite list…..

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Recipe: Chewy Sugar Cookies

I love giving baked goods as hostess gifts or presents during the holiday season. I think a tin full of fresh-baked cookies always trumps a bottle of wine but then I have a voracious sweet tooth, so I may be the odd man out on that last statement.  However, I can rest comfortably knowing that this sugar cookie recipe I am sharing with you is hands down one of the best cookie recipes I have in my arsenal.  Chewy but not dense, flavorful but not cloying, these sugar cookies are the perfect holiday cookie that can stand on their own or be decorated with royal icing.

I urge you to test them out for yourself and tell me what you think!

Chewy Sugar Cookies
Yield: 2 Dozen Cookies

 
Ingredients:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
3 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Instructions
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in medium bowl and set aside.

3. Place 1 1/2 cups of sugar and cream cheese in large bowl. Place remaining sugar (1/3 cup) in shallow baking dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (small lumps of cream cheese will remain). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, vanilla and lemon zest; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft dough forms.

4. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each. Using hands, roll dough into balls. working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheet, 12 cookies per sheet. Using the bottom of drinking glass, flatten dough balls. Sprinkle tops evenly with sugar in shallow dish (approximately 2 tablespoons per tray).

5. Bake 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just being to turn golden, approximately 11 to 13 minutes, rotating the tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using wide spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool .

Notes:

- Normally I am all for using my KitchenAide mixer but this dough benefits from a “soft hand”, so whisking by hand is needed.

- This cookie dough is soft and slightly sticky. I would recommend putting in 2 1/2 cups of flour to start with and then gradually adding more flour until it forms.

- Avoid the temptation to leave the cookies until the edges brown. You want the cookies to be pale and the edges to be slightly golden. If you bake the cookies too long you lose their chewy texture.

- Feel free to leave out the lemon zest but I think it adds a nice fresh taste to the cookie.

- Use a light hand when sprinkling the sugar on the top of the cookies. Sprinkle too much and you end up with a sandy cookie.

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Hostess Gifts: Stuff They Actually Want…..

I am not one for formality, but I think some traditions should be respected.  For example, I think it is appropriate when invited to someone’s home to bring a small token of appreciation.   A host(ess) gift is meant to convey your thanks to your host/hostess for their hard work in preparation for your visit.  However, wine can only say “thanks” so many times so with Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, I thought it might be nice to look at some alternative gifts that might get you an extra helping of dessert.

Cleopatra Candle by Tocca

Scented Candles: Okay, I know that a scented candle is not that exciting, but I would be quite happy to receive the Cleopatra candle by Tocca.  A sweet yet soothing smell of grapefruit and cucumber is the perfect gift to give your frazzled host after a long day of cooking and entertaining.

You can get the Cleopatra candle from Amazon.com.

Fleur de sel Caramels

Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade Gifts: I love homemade candy and it’s even better if I don’t have to make it.  Receiving a homemade gift from one of my guests is the ultimate and in turn, I love giving homemade gifts.  Two of my favorite things to give are fleur de sel caramels and hot cocoa mix.  To jazz things up, I like to give the cocoa mix with two antique teacups in a small gift bag.  You can typically find unique mismatched tea cups for less than a $1 at Goodwill or an antique store.  Click here for the hot cocoa recipe I have found to work best.   As for the fleur de sel caramels, I have my own secret recipe, but this caramel recipe from Ina Garten is excellent in its own right.

Blooming Paperwhites

Flowers: I love fresh flowers as much as the next person but they can make a really predictable gift.  However, why not jazz things up slightly with a pot of paperwhites?  Decorate a small terra cotta pot or find an inexpensive glass container from a resale shop, decorate as you see fit and force the bulbs.  While not practical in all situations, a pot of paperwhites around the holidays would be an unexpected and beautiful gift that will last way longer than any flowers from the $9.99 bin at Trader Joes.  At a cost of about $6 for 6 bulbs, you can plant two or three groupings in pots starting now and have stunning gifts come Christmas.  You can purchase a variety of paperwhite bulbs from Willow Creek online or you can swing by Home Depot who is currently selling a kit.

Colorful Tea Towels

Tea Towels: I can’t seem to  have enough dish towels in my kitchen.  Whenever I think I have enough, I tend to destroy one thus always keeping me in a constant state of imbalance.  No longer confined to dreary white, tea towels like the ones above are the perfect shot of color or pattern to a household.  I am particularly in love with the  Working Class Studio Collection on Amazon.com.  This set of two in Gecko above would be the perfect addition to my collection, especially at only $10!

Cheese Tools from Crate & Barrel

Cheese Tools: Somehow I  always end up losing cheese knives when I bring a cheese plate to a dinner party, so if I received a set of knifes/tools as a host gift, I would be quite happy.  This stainless steel set from Crate and Barrel is under $20 and paired with one of your favorite cheeses, would make a fabulous gift for the hostess with the mostess!

With some simple planning and not a ton of cash, you can get host(ess) gifts that will impress!  I wanna hear what you bring as a hostess gift.  Leave a comment and there just may be something special from Santa in your mailbox.  In addition, check back for my selection of holiday gifts for your fussy tween niece & nephew, your hard to please parents and your techno-challenged grandparents!